Recent News from Engadget

Fox News host Dan Bongino earned himself a Google Ads ban too

Days after he was permanently banned from YouTube, Dan Bongino has also lost his ability to earn revenue from Google ads. On Friday, the Bongino Report Twitter account sent out a tweet suggesting Google had revoked the pundit’s AdSense account. Later t…

Over 80 percent of NFTs minted for free on OpenSea are fake or plagiarized

One of the largest online marketplaces for non-fungible tokens is once again the center of controversy. Mere months after one of its employees resigned for using insider information to profit on NFT drops, OpenSea caused a stir among its users this week when it abruptly announced it was putting a restriction on its free minting tool. The feature allows individuals to create and list an NFT without first paying a “gas price,” the fee that crypto miners charge to write new data to a blockchain.

On Thursday, OpenSea said it would add a 50 item limit to the tool. Predictably, the announcement wasn’t popular among OpenSea users, and the company quickly reversed course. But in doing so, it provided some context about the feature. In a Twitter thread spotted by Vice News, the company said more than 80 percent of the NFTs recently created through its free minting tool involved either plagiarized work or spam.

It’s a staggering number, but one that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Artists and photographers have complained for months that the company hasn’t done enough to prevent scammers and bots from profiting from their work. In fact, there’s an entire Twitter account dedicated to documenting NFT thefts.

“Every decision we make, we make with our creators in mind. We originally built our shared storefront contract to make it easy for creators to onboard into the space,” OpenSea said on Twitter. “We didn’t make this decision lightly. We made the change to address feedback we were receiving from our entire community.”

OpenSea added it was working on several “solutions” it hoped would appease users while deterring bad actors. Moving forward, the company promised it would preview those changes before rolling them out broadly.

Netflix will have to face ‘Queens Gambit’ defamation suit, judge rules

Netflix is learning that careless dialogue in its fictional shows can have serious implications. Its bid to get a recent defamation suit dismissed has been rejected, meaning it will have to face the plaintiff — Georgian chess legend Nona Gaprindashvili — in court. 

In September, Gaprindashvili filed a suit against the streaming giant, accusing the company of defamation and “false light invasion of privacy.” As the world’s first female grandmaster, Gaprindashvili was mentioned in Netflix’s series The Queen’s Gambit — a period drama about a chess prodigy. 

In one scene during a chess match, a radio commentator says in passing “The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”

According to the suit, not only is the allegation that Gaprindashvili hadn’t faced men at that time “manifestly false,” it’s also “grossly sexist and belittling.” It states that “By 1968, the year in which this episode is set, she had competed against at least 59 male chess players (28 of them simultaneously in one game), including at least ten Grandmasters of that time.”

Georgian chess player and women's world chess champion, Nona Gaprindashvili of the Soviet Union, pictured playing a game of chess at the International Chess Congress in London on 30th December 1964. (Photo by Stanley Sherman/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Stanley Sherman via Getty Images

The show is based on a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis that also mentions Gaprindashvili. However, the part which Netflix appears to have based this particular bit of its script on says, “The only unusual thing about her was her sex; and even that wasn’t unique in Russia. There was Nona Gaprindashvili, not up to the level of this tournament, but a player who had met all these Russian Grandmasters many times before.” Netflix’s version is clearly different.

The streaming provider had moved to strike the case in November, saying in its filing that “the Series is a fictional work that a reasonable viewer would not construe as conveying fact.” It also said that “a reasonable viewer would not draw the negative implication that Plaintiff alleges.”

However, US District Judge Virginia Philips denied that motion today, writing that “the fact that the Series was a fictional work does not insulate Netflix from liability for defamation if all the elements of defamation are otherwise present.”

The ruling also states that “at the very least, the line is dismissive of the accomplishments central to Plaintiff’s reputation.” It also points out that, when filing its motion to dismiss, “Netflix’s own evidence demonstrates knowledge of the truth in its choice to deviate from the text of the Novel, which states that Plaintiff had faced the male Russian Grandmasters ‘many times before.'”

Gaprindashvili is seeking damages of at least $5 million, as well as for Netflix to remove the statement that she never played men from the show. 

Neil Young was fed up with Spotify’s ‘shitty’ sound quality anyway

Neil Young’s frustrations with Spotify go far beyond COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. A day after his music was removed from the platform, he said he “felt better” after leaving and slammed Spotify for its sound quality compared with other streaming services.

“Amazon, Apple Music and Qobuz deliver up to 100 percent of the music [quality] today and it sounds a lot better than the shitty degraded and neutered sound of Spotify,” Young wrote in the latest letter published to his website. “If you support Spotify, you are destroying an art form.” He urged fans to switch to “a platform that truly cares about music quality.”

Young, who claims “Spotify streams the artist’s music at five percent of its quality,” has long been vexed by the audio quality on some streaming platforms. He temporarily removed his music from them in 2015. Young launched his own audio player and music download platform that year, but Pono shut down in 2017.

In February 2021, Spotify said it planned to roll out a CD-quality music streaming option in some markets that year. That didn’t happen. The company said earlier this month it was “excited to deliver a Spotify HiFi experience to Premium users in the future,” but didn’t offer a timeline.

Apple Music, Amazon Music and Tidal all started offering CD-quality music streaming as part of their standard plans last year. Deezer and Qobuz also offer hi-res streaming.

Earlier this week, Young accused Spotify of allowing Joe Rogan to share COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and gave the platform an “it’s him or me” ultimatum. Spotify, which reportedly paid north of $100 million to secure the exclusive rights to Rogan’s podcast and said it has taken down more than 20,000 COVID-related podcast episodes, barely flinched. The service pulled the musician’s songs, though said it regretted Young’s decision and hoped he’d return soon.

Meanwhile, Young wrote that he supported free speech and companies’ right to choose what to profit from, “just as I can choose not to have my music support a platform that disseminates harmful information.” He said he was standing “in solidarity with the frontline healthcare workers who risk their lives every day to help others” and “as an unexpected bonus, I sound better everywhere else.”

US lawmakers want to make sure pandemic telehealth coverage doesn’t lapse

The pandemic pushed US lawmakers to provide provisions to expand medical coverage for telehealth in 2020, speeding up a process that would otherwise have taken years. Since then, there have been efforts to make the change permanent, through things like the Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021. But there is an interim period that could present some uncertainty over whether people can get crucial telehealth services while permanent legislation is drawn up. Today, a bipartisan group of 45 lawmakers, led by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), said they’re “calling for the extension of expanded coverage of telehealth services to be included in must-pass legislation in February.”

The group published a letter addressing Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as their minority counterparts and notable signees include Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

The letter states “While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February.” 

Currently, pandemic telehealth decision-makers have temporary authority, and that’s tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. As stated in today’s letter, the emergency declaration is renewed in three-month increments. “Without more definitive knowledge about the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term coverage of telehealth, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth.”

In addition to providing more confidence to providers that investing in telehealth will be a sound long-term investment, adding an extension to telehealth coverage while making it permanent will also “reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly.”

The lawmakers called for “An extension to maintain expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services for a set period of time,” which the letter said “would provide much-needed certainty to health care providers and patients.” They believe an extension would also allow additional time for studies to be conducted on the impact of telehealth, which “could help inform Congress’s next steps on permanent telehealth legislation and appropriate program integrity and beneficiary protections.”

Therefore, the group is also asking to ensure that “an extension not include unnecessary statutory barriers in accessing telehealth services during this data collection and analysis period,” which could prevent people from getting essential care.

Waymo sues to keep autonomous vehicle emergency protocols secret

Waymo has sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles. In a case first reported by The Los Angeles Times, the Alphabet subsidiary filed a complaint with the Sacramento County Superior Court on January 21st to prevent the agency from disclosing what it believes to be trade secrets.

At the center of the lawsuit is a public records request an unidentified party made to obtain Waymo’s driverless deployment application. Before sharing the requested documents, the DMV allowed the company to redact any sections it believed would reveal its trade secrets, including questions that were asked by the agency. When the DMV eventually forwarded the package to the requester, that individual or group challenged the redactions. The agency then contacted Waymo and invited the company to sue it to resolve the matter.

Some of the information Waymo wants to prevent from entering the public domain include details on how it plans to handle emergencies involving its autonomous vehicles. Another redacted section details the abilities of its Driver software to handle San Francisco’s tricky one-way streets and hills. The company began offering taxi service to a limited number of customers in San Francisco in August. Those vehicles operate with a backup human driver.

The company contends it has publicly shared almost all of the information contained in its application with the DMV. According to Waymo, the redactions involve technical details that touch on how it achieves the safety performance it has detailed in other public venues. Waymo claims that information could give a competitor an edge on it. The suit’s purpose here is to either forestall or completely prevent the disclosure of the requested information. As TheLos Angeles Times notes, resolution for these types of cases can take years.

“Every autonomous vehicle company has an obligation to demonstrate the safety of its technology, which is why we’ve transparently and consistently shared data on our safety readiness with the public,” a spokesperson for Waymo told Engadget. “We will continue to work with the DMV to determine what is appropriate for us to share publicly and hope to find a resolution soon.”

The DMV declined to comment on the case, but said it’s currently reviewing the complaint. 

Hopper wants to challenge Airbnb with short-term vacation rentals

Despite an already crowded market featuring big names like Airbnb and Vrbo, travel app Hopper is now expanding its services to include short-term home rentals.Featuring more than two million properties spread across the world, Hopper Homes (which is av…

The FAA has reached a deal with Verizon and AT&T for C-Band 5G at airports

The Federal Aviation Administration says it has reached an agreement with AT&T and Verizon (Engadget’s former parent company) regarding the rollout of their C-Band 5G networks at and around airports. The agency said the three sides have found common ground “on steps that will enable more aircraft to safely use key airports while also enabling more towers to deploy 5G service.”

According to the FAA, the providers offered “more precise data about the exact location of wireless transmitters and supported more thorough analysis of how 5G C-Band signals interact with sensitive aircraft instruments.” The agency said it used the data to “determine that it is possible to safely and more precisely map the size and shape of the areas around airports where 5G signals are mitigated, shrinking the areas where wireless operators are deferring their antenna activations. This will enable the wireless providers to safely turn on more towers as they deploy new 5G service in major markets across the United States.”

The accord follows a months-long tussle between airlines and wireless providers over C-Band 5G. AT&T and Verizon voluntarily delayed the rollout for six weeks to address concerns that their services could interfere with aircraft systems and electronics, due to C-Band frequencies being close to ones used by altimeters. 

Earlier this month, the CEOs of airlines including Delta, United and Southwest claimed in a letter to the federal government that the networks could affect their planes’ instruments and lead to a “catastrophic” event. 

AT&T and Verizon activated their C-Band 5G networks last week after agreeing to create temporary buffer zones around dozens of airports — they haven’t switched on C-Band 5G towers within two miles of some runways. They also argued that similar networks have been deployed in 40 other countries without issue.

It’s not clear when AT&T and Verizon plan to turn on C-Band 5G towers closer to airports following the FAA agreement. The providers declined to comment.  

The CTIA, a trade association for the wireless industry, was bullish about the news. “This is a positive development that highlights the considerable progress the wireless industry, aviation industry, FAA and FCC are making to ensure robust 5G service and safe flights,” CTIA chief communications officer Nick Ludlum told Engadget in a statement.

Meanwhile, the FAA said it would continue discussions with helicopter operators and other stakeholders in the aviation industry “to ensure they can safely operate in areas of current and planned 5G deployment.”

‘NHL 22’ adds women’s teams for the first time

A week before the Winter Olympics get underway, EA has added women’s teams to its NHL games for the first time. You can now select one of 10 women’s International Ice Hockey Federation national squads in NHL 22: Canada, Czech Republic (Czechia), Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Russia, Switzerland and, of course, Team USA.

EA has also introduced IIHF Men’s and World Juniors teams to NHL 22. Along with competing in IIHF World Championship tournaments, the Men’s and Women’s teams are playable in the Play Now, Online Versus, Threes Now and Offline/Online Shootouts modes. EA announced the additions last month.

NHL 12 (which was released in 2011) was the first game in the series in which players could take to the virtual ice as a woman, as long as they created one themselves. The following year, Canadian hockey pioneer Hayley Wickenheiser and American defense player Angela Ruggiero (who could join any team in NHL 13) became the first real playable women hockey players in the franchise, but it’s taken almost another decade for EA to add full women’s squads.

The NHL series is following other major sports games franchises in adding women’s teams. EA brought them to its FIFA games for the first time in 2015, while 2K Games introduced the WNBA to NBA 2K in 2019.

New York’s Obie Awards will consider streaming theater for the first time

For the first time in its storied history, New York City’s annual Obie Awards will consider virtual, digital and audio productions, the event’s organizer, the American Theater Wing, announced on Friday. The move comes in response to the challenges Off- and Off-Off-Broadway artists and groups have had to face through the coronavirus pandemic. Due to some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in the country, many New York theater companies turned to online streaming to survive.

“We wanted to make sure that the work that did happen was eligible,” Heather Hitchens, the CEO and president of the American Theater Wing, told The New York Times. “The Obies respond to the season, and to the evolving nature and rhythms of theater.”

The American Theater Wing hasn’t decided on an exact date for this year’s show, but Hitchens told The Times she expects it will take place sometime in November and involve an in-person presentation. In addition to expanding the mandate of the Obies to honor online productions, judges will consider projects staged between July 1st, 2020 and August 31st, 2022. That’s because the most recent Obie Awards took place in 2020. The American Theater Wing is also responsible for the Tony Awards, and 2022 will mark the first year that the organization will have staged the Obies on its own.  

It’s hard to say what the future will bring, particularly in the middle of a constantly changing pandemic, but the American Theater Wing’s decision to consider online productions could open the door for the Obies to consider shows staged outside of New York City.